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Monopoly got many a soldier through WWII – here’s what it taught one of them…
By Chris Donlan
All games have rules, but Monopoly, right up there with the likes of Poker, Go, and the marvellous hick obscurity Farkel, has actual rituals, too. Every nation, real and – increasingly – imagined, thoughtfully redesigns that famous pale green board in its own image; every household in the world seems to have a different way of handling tax collection, Free Parking, or the loathsome and obscure ‘first trip around the circuit with no option to buy’ rule.
Monopoly’s written history is a well-polished tale of ironic origins and capitalist pluck. The ultimate money-grabbing fantasy began as an interactive means of highlighting the dangers of certain free-market tendencies, while designer Charles Darrow printed the first run of sets himself after all the big league publishers had turned him down. The game’s unwritten, personal history, however, is where the really good stuff can be found. This is where you’ll discover the squabbles that turned into feuds and the long-burning filial resentments that could only really show themselves around the kitchen table on a Sunday evening, with dinner cleared away and the Community Chest and Chance cards stacked in neat little piles. To re-appropriate Tolstoy, every family’s relationship with Monopoly is different, whether happy or unhappy. What follows, then, is my story.
For my grandfather, the Second World War lasted four years and 45 minutes. Like a lot of soldiers, he kicked things off with 30 minutes spent sitting around on a boat: a clean half hour of being tossed about by midnight waves while he wondered if he could remember how his gun worked, whether his shoes were done up tight enough (a fixation that would stay with him long into his declining years), and if he would prove to be a hero, a statistic, or both.
On the last point, at least, we know the answer: he would be neither. That’s because, right after his boat trip was over, he had just ten scary minutes to wander the shores of France, a nervy 20-year-old’s first time in a foreign country, before he was captured.
This brings us onto the third stage of his war experience. Being caught in an impromptu pincer movement by the Germans probably took up about five minutes of his time – he always said that the whole thing was fast, efficient, and strangely undramatic – and then, finally, he concluded his adventures with four years of hanging about in a POW camp in Poland. He learned to knit (a lot of prisoners did, apparently) and he somehow ended up handling the financial matters for a small farm nearby. Mostly, however, he sat with his fellow prisoners in one of the chilly communal areas of the frosty complex where they were being held, playing board games and waiting for somebody to win the much bigger board game that was going on around them – the board game that rattled the windows at night as dark craft dived and dipped overhead, screaming and roaring and leaving behind bright chunks of smoking wreckage in the morning.
As a British prisoner in Poland, my grandfather knew that his duty was either to escape, or to sabotage the Axis war machine as much as he could. Nice options, but they didn’t actually hold up that well under scrutiny. Escape was off the cards. Grandad hated to move quickly even on the best of occasions, and since he still struggled to build convincing sand castles or go-carts by the time he had grand-children to build them for, it’s probably the best for everyone that he never ended up crawling slowly across the dirty floor of a self-made tunnel with a trowel clenched between his teeth and the fate of civilised Europe resting on his shoulders…
This is just a small extract from the full feature in issue one. To read the entire article, click here to purchase the complete digital edition of Continue for just $2.99/£1.99/€2.25.